How to plate your food like a pro

Sure, you could pile some roast chicken and mashed potatoes on a plate and call it dinner. But maybe you want to up your game next time you have guests over, or just want to practice plating your weeknight meals like a pro. We asked chefs Thomas Keller, Rick Bayless, Todd English, Wylie Dufresne and seven other superstars how they arrange their plates. Turns out you don’t need an advanced degree in art to turn your dinner into a gorgeous presentation. Pick and choose your favorite tips from these smart pointers:

Arrange in odd numbers

“The odder the better: Things in even numbers look strange on a plate. So whether you’re putting scallops or dollops of sauce [on the plate], put three or five, not two or four.”—Rick Bayless, chef and owner of Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, Chicago


Use a white backdrop

“Everything looks better using brilliant white china. When you use a bright white plate, the food really stands out, its colors seem more vibrant, and it makes the food more appealing. It seems simple, but it’s true!”—Charlie Palmer, chef and owner of Aureole and the all-new Charlie Palmer Steak, New York City

Play to all the senses

“We must please our eyes, our sense of smell, texture, touch, and mouth-feel, all of which are factors that play into plating or creating our art. [But] one thing you do not want to do when plating is to add garnish just for color. For example, I see people putting red pepper in everything for a pop of red, and it does not always complement the taste of the dish. You must take into consideration the balance and texture of each ingredient and how it plays into the composition of the plate.”—Todd English, founder of Todd English Enterprises and chef-owner of restaurants including Figs and Olives (multiple branches in U.S. and overseas) and Ca Va Brasserie, New York City

Channel your artistic side

“Using the plate as a canvas is key in mastering the art of plating. I like using sauces, sprouts and other garnishes to frame the focal point. It’s all about proportions and really following your instincts. Sometimes I need to take a few steps back to look at the plate like a work of art; sometimes you need a bit of distance. I like putting dishes on top of burnt parchment paper or large edible foliage such as perilla or maple leaves. To ‘burn’ the paper, heat up a dry frying pan and put your dry parchment paper in until it starts to brown. You can cut this into different shapes and use it as a presentation.”—Susur Lee, chef-owner of Toronto’s Lee, Bent and Luckee, Singapore’s TungLok Heen, and the upcoming Lee Kitchen at Toronto’s Pearson Airport

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